English Articles

English Articles is a comprehensive reference guide to the use of articles in Standard English. It is designed for:

  • Teachers and learners of English as a second language
  • Non-native English speaking students who must write in English for academic purposes
  • Teachers and learners of English grammar at both secondary and tertiary levels

The use of articles in Standard English (American, Australian, British) is perceived to be one of the most difficult aspects of English grammar to teach and to learn. This app explains concepts like definite, indefinite, and the count mass distinction of nouns. These factors determine the use of articles in Standard English.

  • Interactive exercises with detailed explanations help reinforce comprehension.
  • Fun images serve to explain concepts like abstract, count and mass.
  • Enjoy!

    Apple App Store Google Play

    Does grammar matter?

    Only if you think it does. The aim of Grammar Matters is to create a space to discuss English grammar matters, namely, the use of articles, auxiliary verbs and prepositions in Standard English. Every language has its own grammar, and if you are learning a new language you want to know how its grammar works.

    New varieties of languages are being created all the time as a result of language contact and each one has its own grammar. Many new varieties of English are being spoken around the world, and different varieties exist even within the UK, the US (e.g. African American Vernacular English) and Australia (e.g. Aboriginal English).

    ‘New Englishes’ have developed as a second language in various countries that were colonised by the British, such as Africa and Asia. Each variety of English has its own grammar, which may differ from that of Standard English. For example, many ‘New Englishes’ lack both articles and auxiliary verbs, but this does not mean that their grammar is wrong – it is just different from that of Standard English.

    The rise of English as a global language is now encouraging a large number of students from non-English speaking countries to learn English as a second language. Non-native English speaking students also have to write academic English, which requires them to use articles as in Standard English.

    About Grammar Matters

    The cluster of apps to be published under the banner of Grammar Matters aims to facilitate the learning and teaching of some difficult aspects of Standard English grammar. These include the use of articles, auxiliary verbs, and some prepositions.

    English Articles is a guide to the use of articles in Standard English.
    It explains why and when to use aanthesome, and also, when no article is used. It is an affordable reference tool for both teachers and learners. Teachers can create their own sets of examples to illustrate theoretical points discussed under each heading in the app. Interactive exercises with detailed answers help reinforce learning. Fun pictures serve to explain some concepts like count and mass.

    English Articles is available from both the App Store and Google Play.

    Your feedback is welcome!

    English Articles

    This App is a guide to the use of articles in Standard English.
    It explains when and why we use:

    • The singular indefinite article a/an
    • The definite article the
    • The quantifier some
    • Zero article

    The use of articles in Standard English depends on a number of factors, namely:

    • Is the noun phrase definite or indefinite?
    • Is the noun countable or non-countable?
    • If it is countable, is it singular or plural?
    • Does the noun phrase refer to a specific entity or does it denote a generic entity?

    This App explains what is meant by the terms definite, indefinite, count and non-count. With the aid of illustrations, it also explains the contrast between countable (count) and non-countable (non-count, or mass) nouns. It is important to understand these concepts in order to understand why articles are used in English.

    This App also contains information on plurals and generic contexts, where no article (or zero) is used.

    A set of interactive exercises with detailed feedback is designed to test and reinforce knowledge.

    Apple App Store Google Play

    Se, li, sa. ‘That’s it!’ Mauritian Creole is a Topic prominent language


    CousCous replies to Henri le chat noir

    Impressions of Ghana

    I had been ready for this trip for almost two weeks. Having just returned from Mauritius, I freshened the contents of my suitcase and repacked it for Ghana. Similar climate, casual conference, just need the basics.

    Mid conference we have an afternoon off for a trip to the famous Aburi Botanical Gardens on the hills outside Accra. Not quite Pamplemousse Gardens, but a pleasant experience all the same – unique in the sense that during the wet season, it is permanently shrouded in clouds so that walking in the Aburi gardens literally entails a walk in the clouds. Drops of water hover in mid air, and an umbrella serves no purpose. We saw some unique trees, incredulously tall and aromatic, with mythical or medicinal properties, and many planted by famous people including the Queen of England, altogether a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of Accra with its impossible traffic jams and resulting pollution.

    We go by Ghana time (much like Mauritian time), which means things start to happen approximately one hour past due time. Despite the warnings that we have to be dead on time for the expedition to the coast because we have an appointment with tour guide, who does not operate past 1pm on Sundays as he has to attend a religious ceremony, we are held up for over one hour by the taxi driver who is delivering the lunches. He is not allowed past the campus gates because he doesn’t have a driving license.

    The post conference excursion took some 40 of us to Cape Coast and adjoining ports along the southern coast of Ghana, from where the trans-Atlantic slave trade took place from the 15th to 19th centuries. The forts and castles that held the slaves captive prior to being loaded on the ships are now heritage listed by UNESCO, and they remain a testimony to the limits of the cruelty and inhumanity that man can inflict upon his kind. The horrors that they reveal challenge rational thought and remain morally indefensible. At any one time, hundreds of men and women (separately) were cramped in poorly ventilated cells, given the minimum amount of food and water, with no washing or toilet facilities for weeks on end, wallowing in their own filth, often next to corpses of those who had succumbed before them, and left to rot till the European masters found it fit to throw their bodies into the sea. When the new Ghana government took over the forts in 1957 (the year that it got its independence from the UK), they dug up 24cms of caked excrement in one of the forts.

    We wondered about this mistreatment, given that the slaves were worth money to their owners. The aim, so we were told, was to break their spirit, and export only the strongest, since the 3-4 month journey across the Atlantic, shackled to one another in irons, and packed like sardines in the cargo hull promised to be even more testing. If they survived the forts, they stood a chance of surviving the sea journey, hence the initial process of elimination, which was in effect, an economy measure. It’s a wonder that so many slaves made it to the other side of the world … but then, there were millions, to this day, no one really knows how many. However, if the Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch, English and French) are to be held responsible for the cruel treatment of the slaves, they are not solely to blame for the slave trade. The warring African nations sold their war captives to the Europeans and it is said that the fortunes of many current African war lords have been built on this ignominious trade.

    We visited Fort Amsterdam, Elmina castle and Cape Coast castle. Each with its chambers of horrors, the worse being the final room where they were branded with a hot iron on the left shoulder, prior to being shunted through ‘door of no return’, from whence they were loaded onto small boats that took them on to the awaiting ships. Surely the shame is to be the master, not the slave.

    The slaves spoke various languages of the Niger Congo family, which were not mutually intelligible. Their endeavour to communicate with their Dutch, English, French, or Portuguese masters led to the creation of the many creole languages that thrive to this day. The first batch of slaves that were sent to Mauritius came from this region. Thus, this was an emotional journey for me in more ways than one. Once sugar plantations were established in Mauritius, slaves were then taken from the closer coasts of East Africa and Madagascar, and these slaves were said to be ‘lucky’ that the sea journey lasted only 3-4 days.

    We spent 2 nights at a beach resort along the coast. Being the wet season, we do not see the sun, as a thick layer of clouds hovers permanently over us, yielding almost 100% humidity. No blue skies, no blue sea, just grey waves pounding relentlessly on the beach, as though asking and asking the reason for such inhumanity, and expressing shame for their complicity. Perhaps the horrors of the slave trade have cast a gloom on this coast, but there is a morbid feel about it right now. The sea is surprisingly cool despite its proximity to the equator, and I am not at all inclined to get wet. Sunscreen, bathers and pareo remain unpacked.

    Ghana is rich in resources, especially gold. It also produces cocoa, not coffee as I had previously thought. In fact, they hardly drink coffee, so we had morning and afternoon cocoa breaks at the conference. Ghana is a united country and the people are deeply religious, having been converted to Catholicism by the Portuguese, and despite the cruelty of their masters, embraced their new faith with gusto. Religious propaganda is everywhere, billboards, radio, TV. Smoking, drinking and playing up are associated with evil ways and perceived to be very unchristian. Consequently, no one is seen smoking – not in public anyway, and the sale of cigarettes is mostly under the counter.

    Faith permeates every aspect of their lives and is particularly obvious in business advertising. Phrases are borrowed from the Gospels to create business names and proclaim their allegiance to God. Thus we have: ‘God is able fast foods’, God bless diesel pumps and injectors’, ‘By the grace electricals’, and ‘Almighty aluminium works’ in competition with ‘Blessed aluminium systems’. We drive past the ‘Fear not beauty salon’ and the ‘In thee Lodge’ motel.

    Ghana obtained its independence from the UK in 1957, and English is still the official language, side by side with other African languages (Akan, Ewe, or Gbe, depending on regions), as well as a creole language known as Ghanaian Pidgin English. My poor efforts at second language acquisition were thus a bit of a waste of time, for in this multilingual country, everyone is fluent English.

    However, as in every country where a multiple of languages are spoken, code switching is rampant, and each language gets subjected to inevitable semantic shifts, yielding interesting interpretations. During our 200km drive to the coast, we come across signs warning that ‘Overspeeding kills’. We drive past the ‘Peculiar Children Academy’ (not sure whether this means ‘gifted’ or ‘retarded’, but at any rate, we assume that they deviate from the norm), the ‘African Barbering Salon’, the ‘Health and Longevity Academy’ which claims that ‘If you look after your body, it will last a lifetime’. There are ads for the ‘Kanzane Pork Show’, for ‘Konfidor’, which promises to ‘kill Akate dead’ (Akate is head lice), and for a painkilling tablet that ‘conquers pain completely and endlessly’.As a linguist, I relish all this.

    Our final excursion before returning to Accra is to the equatorial rainforest in the Kakum National Park where we have the exhilarating experience of walking across 7 rope bridges suspended 40 metres above ground, over the canopy of an equatorial rain forest. They were erected by a couple of Canadians. I am fortunate to not fear heights, but grown men turn white, break into a lather of sweat, and lose their capacity for speech.

    The trip back to Accra saw us stuck for 3 hours in one of the proverbial traffic jams. The amazingly patient and resilient Ghanaians have learnt to make the most of this dismal state of affairs,which has created for them a unique business opportunity. Amidst the chaos, street vendors, with huge baskets and even glass containers sell their produce and wares, weaving their way between lanes of traffic. This makes it possible for commuters to do a full shopping on their way home, and even have dinner in their vehicle before they get home. There is no end to the variety of what is sold on the roadside, every conceivable food item, souvenirs, homewares, including clocks, toilets and kitchen sinks, and we even a see dentist chair, plastic packaging intact. This roadside trade is highly illegal of course, mostly because of the hazards that it causes. There is the occasional accident, and death, following which the police enforce the law and lock up a few traders. But they say they are only kept inside for a couple of days, a week at the most, and the only inconvenience is not being able to feed the family for the duration. Once released, they start all over again, with, it seems, the blessing of the police and commuters.

    Despite the initial trauma of missed flights, and the few administrative hiccups, my Ghana experience has been a memorable one, one I will cherish for a long time. I have met fascinating people, and had a brief insight into a culture of which I knew little. Heard some beautiful music, and had the privilege to watch lots of dancing, mostly by men, whose physical strength and prowess are quite daunting. Despite its gold, most of the people in Ghana are desperately poor, but somehow, hope seems to prevail, and everyone smiles. But none as much as the hundreds of children we came across in the villages. They have nothing, and ask for nothing, except for you to take their photo, so they can see their smiles in your camera. Life can be so simple.

    A week in the vieux Lyon

    Lyon 2013
    Click the link below to download and view the PDF.
    A week in the vieux Lyon

    From Geneva to Italy

    Geneva, July 2013
    It is very hot in Geneva this July. After a morning pottering around the city, we catch a train to Lausanne through vineyards that stretch from the base of the mountainsto the banks of Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva). Then on to Montreux to connect with the rack and pinion train that will twist and turn its way up a mountain side up to the Rochers de Naye, over 2000 metres altitude. The views along the journey are simply spectacular, and the 15 degree drop in temperature when we reach the top is a welcome relief. We climb the final 100 metres on foot to the edge of the cliffsto be rewarded by 360 degree panorama of the Swiss Alps, and far below in the distance, the lake. It is breathtaking and being here makes you want to yodel.

    After the mountains, we opt for a trip on the waterthe next day, and head for the historical town of Yvoire (which is actually on the French side of the lake). It takes just under 2 hours from Geneva on a massive steam paddleboat, packed with tourists. It is hot, still & steamy, and even on the water there is no reprieve. Too bad for the hundreds of yachties who were planning some fun on the lake this weekend. Sails flap, boats stand still, swaying only to the ripples caused by passing motor boats. Some owners opt to strip bare and lie on their decks to sunbake.

    A large number of tourists, mostly very fair looking, obviously not having seen much sun of late, plonk themselves on the deck in full sun – the breeze generated by the moving paddleboat is cooling, but Alain & I have bagged a shady spot indoors, near a window and he is just happy to be on the water.

    The medieval town of Yvoire is one ‘Les plus beaux villages de France’, and has been voted and ‘la plus fleurissante’. The show of flowers hanging from every balcony is indeed magnificent and I can’t take enough pictures. Yvoire has less than 1000 permanent residents, but on a daily basis thousands of tourists cram the shops and restaurants. One of the officials on board advises that if we want to avoid crowds, we should walk to the neighbouring village of Nernier 15 mins away and just as pretty.

    Some travel memories are best enjoyed ‘avec le recul du temps’. Nernier turns out to be 3 kms away, part of the way along a pathway through some massive trees providing welcome shade. It is the Route de Baudois, which is only one metre wide, and has been trodden since the Middle Ages. But the new part of the road is in full sun. July 27 turns out to be the hottest July day yet in Switzerland this summer, with temperatures hovering around 38 degrees. The tar on the road is melting, and Nernier does not live up to expectations. Back in Yvoire some 2 hours later, we sit by the water’s edge, feet dangling in the lake to relieve the burning blisters and hopefully cool down as we wait for the paddle steamer to take us back to Geneva.

    It is on time, and at 6.10 PM on the dot, it touches the Quay du Mont Blanc in the centre of Geneva – this is Switzerland, where precision and punctuality are the order of the day. The sunbakers spill out looking like lobsters. Many may well find out that stroking is not such a gentle verb when applied to the effects of the sun!

    Onwards to Italy
    We leave the hotel at 6.15 am with no regrets, looking forward to a spectacular train journey through the Swiss and Italian Alps on the way to Milan, where we’ll connect with a regional train and head back north to Stresa on Lago Maggiore (Lac Majeur).

    We love train travel in Europe – comfort, speed and relaxation while you enjoy picture postcard scenery, what more could one want? The only hassle is lifting luggage in and out the train, but this forces you to travel light and curbs any urge to shop & acquire along the way.

    The train leaves on time, but 20 mins out of Geneva there is an announcement of some ‘perturbation’ which means that we have to change trains at the next station. The journey from Geneva to Milan will turn out to be a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons.

    During the course of the journey we have to change trains 3 times, and at one stage all passengers are hoarded on to coaches to be transferred to the next train station some 30 kms away. The locals are fuming, complaining that they have never experienced anything like this before, and many are rightly concerned about missing connections in Milan. An old man, with piles of luggage that he cannot possibly lift, is so angry we fear he will have a heart attack. Whilst he could get help getting on and off the train, it is now to each his own, having their own luggage to cart. The lady is the wheelchair seems quite resigned when they find out that they can’t lift her on to the coach with her chair, which won’t fit through the door. She knows deep down that she will not be left stranded in this forlorn village, deep in a valley of the Italian Alps. Count your blessings, the train could have broken down in one of the 25 km long tunnels. We have no deadlines to meet, the cooler temperatures are a blessing, the sheer drop from the mountain tops down to this village are awe inspiring. We march along behind the crowd trailing our luggage and enjoy the scenery.

    Stresa, Lago Maggiore
    Another apartment booked online at random turns out to be the best yet. The beautiful town of Stresa surpasses all our expectations. The apartment reminds us of the one in Lyon, being ultra modern in a very old building, in the centre of town. Italian design at its best impresses Alain. Beds and kitchen are concealed, and the layout is such that it is possible to change from cosy bedroom to lounge, dining & kitchen at just the push of a few buttons. Ikea eat your heart out.

    Later that afternoon (train travel having taken most of the day), as we sit on the shore of Lake Maggiore, Alain comments that this is the most beautiful place that he has ever been to – even prettier than Seattle (not having been there, I can’t tell, but I would have to agree about the charm of Stresa). The calm of the lake surrounded by mountains, the cobbled streets, the carefully preserved buildings, and shops … aaah we are not far from Milan, the fashion capital of Italy, but there are also the foodstores, and I never knew that home made pasta could come in so many shapes and colours.

    Hemmingway spent time convalescing in the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, one of the magnificent hotels facing the lake, and set part of Farewell to arms here. Though he is said to have loved Stresa, he didn’t portray it very nicely in his novel. Maybe that’s a good thing, as it may help keep hoards of tourists away! However, many English & Americans seem to have discovered its secrets, as just did a couple of Australians.

    Varenna, Lake Como
    The train journey from Stresa to Varenna via Milan was uneventful, though in hindsight we came to realize how lucky we were to have been in a carriage in the middle of the train with doors that open and shut. Italian regional trains are not of the same ilk as the Inter Continental Express. You also have to be sure that you are catching the right train, as they do not all run on time. But as they say here, if you are late for the train and the train is also late, this means that you are both on time.

    You have to pick a carriage that is in the middle of the train, because when you get to remote places like Varenna, the train is longer than the platform, and you could think that you have not yet reached destination when the train stops.

    You are also advised to make sure that you go out via the same door that you entered, for only then can you be sure that it can open and shut. Trains don’tstop for long, and luggage takes time.

    We are staying at Hotel Eremo Gaudio on a cliff facing the lake, 10 mins walk out of town. Guests are mostly middle age and young families.

    We have done quite some travelling by boat since being here –the day before to Bellagio – I will let you discover for yourself in words I need not repeat, except to say that it was bellissima and lived up to all expectations.

    Yesterday we headed for Como – a 2 ½ hour journey each way in a ‘batello’ – the slow boat as opposed to the hydrofoil. The highlight of the trip being all the villages that you pass along the way, like so many postcards unfurling before your eyes. Once again, we were happy to sit and enjoy.

    Como was very disappointing, and the heat may have contributed to the negative experience. It is the largest town on the lake, with, at first glance, none of the old world appeal of Bellagio and other smaller villages that dot the shores of the lake. It has been spoilt by an excess of tourism, though its famous resortsremain the playground of the ultra rich and famous.

    However, since we are neither that rich and nor that famouslike us, I suggest that if you ever have the opportunity to holiday in this part of the world, forget Como & head for Bellagio. If multitudes of tourists are not your thing, Varenna is the next best option – the locals say thatBellagio is the pearl of the lake, and Varenna its diamond. It’s a matter of personal taste. If shopping is your thing, you will prefer the pearl, but if you are craving for peace and quiet, nice walks, places to eat, sunbake, swim while admiring the sunset, the diamond is for you.

    The beauty of Lake Como has been lauded since Roman days, and probably well before, so there is nothing to add but clichés. It is not possible to exaggerate its charm and soothing effects, and we are just loving being here. The only sound right now from the rooftop of the hotel, is that of the distant throttle of the ‘batellos’ full of tourists, and the cicadas announcing yet another hot afternoon. Perhaps we can both say that in our all too busy lives, we are for a brief moment experiencing Nirvana. No stress, no rush, just the sheer pleasure of sitting here, soaking in the view, and letting our thoughts roam.

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